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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.
- The Events of Isaac's Life
5. משׁמרת mı̂shmeret, "charge, ordinance." מציה mı̂tsvâh, "command," special order. חק choq, "decree, statute," engraven on stone or metal. תירה tôrâh, "law," doctrine, system of moral truth.
10. עשׂק ‛êśeq, 'Eseq, "strife."
21. שׂטנה śı̂ṭnâh, Sitnah, "opposition."
22. רחבית rechobôt, Rechoboth, "room."
26. אחזת 'ǎchuzat, Achuzzath, "possession."
33. שׁבעה shı̂b‛âh, Shib'ah, "seven; oath."
34. יהוּדית yehûdı̂yt, Jehudith, "praised." בארי be'ērı̂y, Beeri, "of a well." בשׂמת bāśemat, Basemath, "sweet smell." אילן 'êylon, Elon, "oak."
This chapter presents the leading events in the quiet life of Isaac. It is probable that Abraham was now dead. In that case, Esau and Jacob would be at least fifteen years of age when the following event occurred.
Renewal of the promise to Isaac. "A famine in the land." We left Isaac, after the death of Abraham, at Beer-lahai-roi Genesis 25:11. The preceding events have only brought us up to the same point of time. This well was in the land of the south Genesis 24:62. The present famine is distinguished from what occurred in the time of Abraham Genesis 12:10. The interval between them is at least a hundred years. The author of this, the ninth document, is, we find, acquainted with the seventh document; and the famine to which he refers is among the earliest events recorded in it. There is no reason to doubt, then, that he has the whole history of Abraham before his mind. "Unto Abimelek unto Gerar." The Abimelek with whom Abraham had contact about eighty years before may have been the father of the present sovereign. Both Abimelek and Phikol seem to have been official names. Gerar Genesis 10:19 was apparently on the brook of Mizraim Numbers 34:5, the Wady el-Arish, or the Wady el-Khubarah, a northern affluent of the former, or in the interval between them. It is on the way to Egypt, and is the southern city of the Philistines, who probably came from Egypt Genesis 10:14. Isaac was drawing toward Egypt, when he came to Gerar.
2And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
Isaac is now the heir, and therefore the holder, of the promise. Hence, the Lord enters into communication with him. First, the present difficulty is met. "Go not down into Mizraim," the land of corn, even when other lands were barren. "Dwell in the land of which I shall tell thee." This reminds us of the message to Abraham Genesis 12:1. The land here spoken of refers to "all these lands" mentioned in the following verses. "Sojourn in this land:" turn aside for the present, and take up thy temporary abode here. Next, the promise to Abraham is renewed with some variety of expression. "I will be with thee" Genesis 21:22, a notable and comprehensive promise, afterward embodied in the name Immanuel, "God with us. Unto thee and unto thy seed." This was fulfilled to his seed in due time. All these lands, now parcelled out among several tribes. "And blessed in thy seed" Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18.
This is the great, universal promise to the whole human race through the seed of Abraham, twice explicitly announced to that patriarch. "All the nations." In constancy of purpose the Lord contemplates, even in the special covenant with Abraham, the gathering in of the nations under the covenant with Noah and with Adam Genesis 9:9; Hosea 6:7. "Because Abraham hearkened to my voice," in all the great moments of his life, especially in the last act of proceeding on the divine command to offer Isaac himself. Abraham, by the faith which flows from the new birth, was united with the Lord, his shield and exceeding great reward Genesis 15:1, with God Almighty, who quickened and strengthened him to walk before him and be perfect Genesis 17:1. The Lord his righteousness worketh in him, and his merit is reflected and reproduced in him Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:18. Hence, the Lord reminds Isaac of the oath which he had heard at least fifty years before confirming the promise, and of the declaration then made that this oath of confirmation was sworn because Abraham had obeyed the voice of God. How deeply these words would penetrate into the soul of Isaac, the intended victim of that solemn day! But Abraham's obedience was displayed in all the acts of his new life. He kept the charge of God, the special commission he had given him; his commandments, his express or occasional orders; his statutes, his stated prescriptions, graven on stone; his laws, the great doctrines of moral obligation. This is that unreserved obedience which flows from a living faith, and withstands the temptations of the flesh.
3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
4And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
6And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:
Rebekah preserved from dishonor in Gerar. Gerar was probably a commercial town trading with Egypt, and therefore Isaac's needs during the famine are here supplied. "The men of the place" were struck with the appearance of Rebekah, "because she was fair." Isaac, in answer to their inquiries, pretends that she is his sister, feeling that his life was in peril, if she was known to be his wife. Rebekah was at this time not less than thirty-five years married, and had two sons upwards of fifteen years old. She was still however in the prime of life, and her sons were probably engaged in pastoral and other field pursuits. From the compact between Abraham and Sarah Genesis 20:13, and from this case of Isaac about eighty years after, it appears that this was a ready pretence with married people among strangers in those times of social insecurity.
7And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.
8And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.
Abimelek observes Isaac sporting with Rebekah as only husband and wife should, constrains him to confess that she is his wife, charges him with the impropriety of his conduct, and commands his people to refrain from harming either of them on pain of death. We see how insecure a female's honor was in those days, if she was in a strange land, and had not a band of men to keep back the hand of violence. We perceive also that God mercifully protects his chosen ones from the perils which they bring upon themselves by the vain self-reliance and wicked policy of the old corrupt nature. This remnant of the old man we find in the believers of old, as in those of the present time, though it be different and far less excusable in its recent manifestations.
9And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.
10And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.
11And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.
12Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.
The growing prosperity of Isaac. "And Isaac sowed in that land." This does not imply a fixed property in the soil, but only an annual tenancy. "A hundred-fold." The rates of increase vary from thirty to a hundred. Sixty-fold is very good, and was not unusual in Palestine. A hundred-fold was rare, and only in spots of extraordinary fertility. Babylonia, however, yielded two hundred and even three hundred-fold, according to Herodotus (I. 193). Thus, the Lord began to "bless him." The amazing growth of the stranger's wealth in flocks and herds and servants awakens the envy of the inhabitants. The digging of the well was an enterprise of great interest in rural affairs. It conferred a sort of ownership on the digger, especially in a country where water was precious. And in a primeval state of society the well was the scene of youthful maidens drawing water for domestic use, and of young men and sometimes maidens watering the bleating flocks and lowing herds, and therefore the gathering center of settled life. Hence, the envious Philistines were afraid that from a sojourner he would go on to be a settler, and acquire rights of property. They accordingly took the most effectual means of making his abiding place uncomfortable, when they stopped up the wells. At length the sovereign advised a separation, if he did not enjoin the departure of Isaac.
13And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:
14For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.
15For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.
16And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.
17And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
Isaac retires, and sets about the digging of wells. He retreats from Gerar and its suburbs, and takes up his abode in the valley, or wady of Gerar. These wadys are the hollows in which brooks flow, and therefore the well-watered and fertile parts of the country. He digs again the old wells, and calls them by the old names. He commences the digging of new ones. For the first the herdmen of Gerar strive, claiming the water as their property. Isaac yields. He digs another; they strive, and he again yields. He now removes apparently into a distinct region, and digs a third well, for which there is no contest. This he calls Rehoboth, "room" - a name which appears to be preserved in Wady er-Ruhaibeh, near which is Wady esh-Shutein, corresponding to Sitnah. "For now the Lord hath made room for us." Isaac's homely realizing faith in a present and presiding Lord here comes out.
18And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.
19And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.
20And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.
21And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.
22And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
23And he went up from thence to Beersheba.
Isaac now proceeds to Beer-sheba. "Went up." It was an ascent from Wady er-Ruhaibeh to Beer-sheba; which was near the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Salt Sea. "In that night" - the night after his arrival, in a dream or vision. "I am the God of Abraham thy father." Isaac is again and again reminded of the relation in which his father stood to God. That relation still subsists; for Abraham still lives with God, and is far nearer to him than he could be on earth. "The God of Abraham" is another name for Yahweh. "Fear not," as he had said to Abraham after his victory over the four kings Genesis 15:1. Then follow the reasons for courage: I, with thee, blessing thee, multiplying thy seed; a reassurance of three parts of the promise involving all the rest. Then comes the instructive reason for this assurance - "for the sake of Abraham my servant." "An altar" - the first on record erected by Isaac. "Called on the name of the Lord" - engaged in the solemn and public invocation of Yahweh Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8. "His tent there." It was hallowed ground to his father Genesis 21:33, and now to himself. "Digged a well," and thereby took possession of the soil at least for a time. We hear of this well again in the next passage.
24And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake.
25And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well.
26Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.
The treaty with Abimelek. This is an interview similar to what Abraham had with the king of Gerar; and its object is a renewal of the former league between the parties. Besides Phikol, the commander-in-chief, he is now accompanied by Ahuzzath, his privy counsellor. Isaac upbraids him with his unkindness in sending him away, and his inconsistency in again seeking a conference with him. "We clearly saw." His prosperity was such as to be a manifest token of the Lord's favor. Hence, they desired the security of a treaty with him by an oath of execration on the transgressor. "Do us no hurt." The covenant is one-sided, as expressed by Abimelek. "As we have not touched thee." This implies the other side of the covenant. "Thou art now blessed of Yahweh." This explains the one-sidedness of the covenant. Isaac needed no guarantee from them, as the Lord was with him. Abimelek is familiar with the use of the name Yahweh. Isaac hospitably entertains and lodges the royal party, and on the morrow, after having sworn to the treaty, parts with them in peace. On the same day Isaac's servants report concerning the well they had digged Genesis 26:25 that they had found water. This well he calls Sheba, "an oath," and hence the town is called Beer-sheba, "the well of the oath." Now the writer was aware that this place had received the same name on a former occasion Genesis 21:31. But a second well has now been dug in like circumstances in the same locality. This gives occasion for a new application of the name in the memories of the people. This is another illustration of the principle explained at Genesis 25:30. Two wells still exist at this place to attest the correctness of the record.
27And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?
28And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee;
29That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD.
30And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.
31And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
32And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water.
33And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.
34And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:
35Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.